Some health organizations requested tobacco to be removed from the list of essential goods during Chile's lockdown. The authorities eventually removed the entire list, along with the controversy.
On April 7, Chile entered in a period of quarantine for regions like the metropolitan area of the capital city, Santiago, which is home to 40% of the population. Other regions entered into a partial lockdown during weekends as well.
The government updated the list of 19 categories for which Chileans were allowed to go out for. They could for instance buy food, get equipped for cooking or working remolely, acquire a washing machine, etc. But the possibility of buying clothes or cosmetics was restricted to goods only strictly necessary for subsistence.
And in the section "other goods", along with gas or tyres, an element made some health representatives angry: tobacco.
A baffling decision for some doctors
Tobacco is the first cause of evitable deaths in Chile and in the world.
Eight health organizations asked the government to removed tobacco as an essential goods, describing the government decision as "incomprehensible". "Several scientific studies demonstrated it increases contagiousness, incidence, gravity and mortality, with a risk 2.5 higher for smokers" the statement said. The statement didn't specify which scientific studies.
In 2020, some studies had suggested smoking could reduce risks of being severely affected by Covid-19. However, in June 2020, the World Health Organization stated that "the available evidence suggests that smoking is associated with increased severity of disease and death in hospitalized COVID-19 patients" but no evidence "to quantify the risk to smokers was found in the peer-reviewed literature".
Dr. Laura Mendoza, President of the Chilean Society of Respiratory Diseases said that "smoking increases Covid-19 contagiousness". For instance, someone smoking removes the mask off, she argued.
A doctor and Senator from the opposition and member of the Health commission, Guido Girardi, considered "unacceptable" for the government to consider cigarettes and tobacco as essential goods.
Restrictions over non-essential goods relieved
It would have been better to take the opportunity to promote better habits, such as quitting smoking, during this period of time he suggested. "Instead of promoting better habits, the government is blind to the enormous damage that tobacco produces", the Senator tweeted.
Izkia Siches, President of the Chile Medical Association however considered selling cigarettes couldn't be suspended right now because smokers are addicted, and quitting requires medical treatment.
But a misundertanding arose when the Minister of Health, Enrique Paris, reportedly told to the Senate Health Commission that from April 15, tobacco "will no longer be essential goods".
Until the authorities later explained that the entire list detailing essential goods was removed altogether.
The list was set up for 15 days and was going to be evaluated at the end of the fortnight period. And Chile therefore removed the restrictions for selling non-essential goods.
Media sources and useful links:
- Instructivo para permisos de desplazamiento, Chile government, April 2021, Free access
- Nueva definición de "bienes esenciales": Qué puedo comprar (y qué no) en supermercados o delivery, T13, APril 2021, Free access
- Coronavirus en Chile: Hoy termina la prohibición de venta de "bienes no esenciales", T13, April 2021, Free access
- Guido Girardi, Twitter, April 2021, Free access
- Izkia Siches, Twitter, April 2021, Free access
- Declaración pública sobre tabaco como "bien esencial", Sociedad Chilena de Pediatria, April 2021, Free access
- ¿Es un bien esencial? La polémica que envolvió al tabaco esta semana, 24 horas, April 2021, Free access
- Smoking and COVID-19, WHO, June 2020, Free access